THE DREAM COMPUTER SCHOOL IN TIGER-THREATENED VILLAGE
HORIZON SCHOOL IN MAHAWILACHCHIYA
Sunanda Deshapriya Karunarathna email@example.com May, 2002
I am going to tell you a fairy tale; a fairy tale rich with emotions; on the other hand a fairy tale that tells about a dream coming to life. My location is Mahavilachchiya in Anuradhapura district. It is 40 Km away from the city of Anuradhapura, adjoining Wilpattu national park, an area threatened by the LTTE terrorists. They attacked the village several times during the period between1988-1996. Even today, home guards armed with T-56 rifles, guard the village in the bunkers scattered around the village.
Our travel guide pointed a damaged place on the tarred road saying, “In 1988 they blasted a land mine here. The bomb had been set to blast the bus, but an army jeep was caught.” We looked at each other.
When the computer has become a toy in the hands of Colombo metropolitan kids and Sri Lankan kids become the owners of software development companies, Mahavilachchiya kids were taken refuge in the jungle fearing LTTE attacks. While the students in Colombo were surfing the web for knowledge, Mahavilachchiya kids had not even seen a computer monitor.
Though this was something common to most of the rural Sri Lankan villages, a young teacher, Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka, who was born and bred in the same area, laid the foundation to change this pathetic situation.
Mr. Wanni realized that however much talented the students in these areas, the lack of English Knowledge, the computer phobia and the typical shyness withered those talents.
He took his students out of the classroom to teach them English. They absorbed the language eagerly because they did not have a teacher of English before.
During this time he encouraged the students to publish a handwritten magazine “The Horizon” and he posted a few copies to the foreign missions in Sri Lanka. The US embassy in Colombo was pleased with the effort, presented the Mahavilachchiya village school a computer. But nobody was there to operate a computer. Wanni, using the Help Menu, taught himself the art of using a PC first. Then he imparted the knowledge to his students. The second issue of the Horizon came out as a computer printout.
The unconventional way of this young teacher was a bit hard to devour for a few elder teachers in the school. They paved the way for Wanni to the school. A determined Wanni thought, “I can go back to the rice fields but I will not let die the light which I lit for these innocent kids.” He quit the job.
To improve the English and the computer education, and at the same time to improve the other skills of Mahavilachchiya kids, Wanni started the “Horizon School”. He appointed one of the parents as the treasurer of the institution.
But the Horizon kids lost the opportunity of using their computer. It was safely locked in a schoolroom (in the former school). “The Horizon” magazine again came out as a hand written magazine.
Wanni went to Colombo with the magazine. His intention was to go to the US embassy. He had enough time before the appointment and he just let himself astray along the streets of Colombo. In this walk he came across the huge “Lankadeepa” building. The Sunday Times newspaper that Wanni wrote to occasionally was also in the same building. He stepped in and met Gamini Akmeemana of the “Daily Mirror” newspaper. Gamini listened to Wanni’s story about “wild flowers of Mahavilachchiya” and in the next week Gamini went to Mahavilachchiya. That story was published in IPS (Inter Press Service) website revealing the computer kids of Mahavilachchiya to the whole world.
Mr. Donald Gaminitilake worked in Japan as an image technologist, for a long time. He and his wife Mrs. Bhadra Gaminitillake accidentally read Gamini’s letter on IPS web. Mr. Donald directed the attention of their friends on the article and as a result the Managing director of the East West Company Mr. Sanjeewa Wickramanayaka and the Managing Director of the Andrews Travels Mahen Kariyawasam donated the first computer to the Horizon School. Later the Managing Director of the Slimline Company Mr. Dian Gomes invited Wanni to present a few more used computers to the school. While talking to Wanni he decided to recruit this determined young man into his team. The horizon school got a few more computers and Wanni got a job at the Slimline Company as a Human Resource Executive.
Mr. Donald, who was an expert in website designing, taught Wanni the basics
of website designing. Later both designed the enticing website www.horizonlanka.org. “We wanted to avoid geometrical shapes such as squares,” said Mr. Gaminitillake.
“We tried to add the greenness of Mahavilachchiya to the website as much as possible. Our aim was to make Sri Lankan expatriates homesick,” added Wanni. I must mention that the site is one of the most picturesque websites I have ever seen.
The texts of this website are written in English by the Horizon students. When you go through these beautifully written articles you will never imagine that the little writers are from a war torn area, hundreds of kilometers away from Colombo.
Dr. Nimal Perera, a medical doctor who lives in North Carolina, USA agreed to offer a scholarship to the student Anusha, after reading her articles and her O/L exam results on the web. The friendly doctor too joined us to visit these kids in the village.
You can contact the web master by firstname.lastname@example.org . Many Sri Lankan expatriate professionals have come forward to help the horizon kids after visiting the website. As a result they were able to lay the foundation stone to their dream computer center. The building will provide the space for 10 computers. Wanni hopes to finish the task by this December.
“In future the computer centers will fade away. Everybody will learn computers alone. Even our computers are kept students’ houses. But this center provides an opportunity for the students to get together. Even if I am not in the scene someday, they will continue to spread the light I lit for them.” says Wanni. Such is the vision of this iron-willed young man. I couldn’t help having a great respect for the confidence and the humanity Wanni displays.
“While I teach them English and computers I found that they have born talents for singing and dancing.” Wanni bought an electric organ and mastered it by himself then he trained the students to play it. Horizon kids began to proceed freely in the fields of singing music and dancing.
I too was fortunate enough to witness their talents in my tour to Mahavilachchiya. Though they do not even have a teacher for aesthetic subjects, the skills they showed was excellent in their dances. Most of the dances were designed by themselves. Here I must mention the talent of little Radhika who performed even slight gestures in a refined skill of an expert. They have taken a great effort to please us with their mini concert. Our applauses brightened their little faces with joy. Those smiles completely swept away the last fragments of my worry about missing my family on the New Year day. I went to see the Horizon kids on April 15 missing the New Year at home.
“I give the kids training on computer hardware under the repairer of our computers. In the future we will be able to repair our computers by ourselves. Anusha and Gayani are following a computer course in Anuradhapura. I hope to get their service to teach the others in future,” says Wanni.
“The most important thing is having an aim to go ahead. My aim is to send these students to the society with a strong personality and confidence. The next main thing I have to mention is, we have done it. We are going ahead, nothing is magic to us anymore it is only our determination and effort,” added Wanni while we were returning.
To me it is a fairy tale beginning with hardships and a pleasant ending. They have a long way to go I am assured that their teacher Wanni and their foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gaminitillake will help them in the future. But Mahavilachchiya needs more help. If that happens, the end of this fairy tale will be happier than a tale written by Hans Christian Anderson.